The shy, socially awkward and introspective are often marginalized, bullied, devalued and scapegoated by their more outgoing peers, but it is not clear why. The best-selling book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”” by Susan Cain addresses this problem so compellingly that her Ted Talk on introversion has been seen by over 33 million viewers.
Her thesis rests upon the assumption that a third of the population, the introverts, want to get far from the maddening crowd to find some peace, solitude and time to think. However, since we now live in a culture of personality which embraces narcissism and showiness, the quiet ones get scapegoated and are the easy targets of abuse. This psychological dynamic accounts for most of the bullying in our schools.
Cain goes on to suggest that most of the creative output in any culture comes from the introverts who seek solitude and time to think and this quiet often results in epiphanies, revelations and inventions which the culture benefits from.
Wasn’t it Moses who went up “into the mountain 40 days and 40 nights” and returned with the revelation of the Ten Commandments. Jesus entered the desert and fasted in solitude for 40 days and 40 nights, refused the temptations of the devil and thus began his ministry.
In fact, nearly every saint who’s been canonized has a story of seeking a lonely place to find spiritual enlightenment. Saint Francis of Assisi only became enlightened after he was locked away in a prison for a year. Buddha may be the most famous story of a spiritual mystic who renounced secular life and wandered alone and in solitude to find enlightenment.
I am certain that all these mystics and saints were introverts and found comfort and insight through solitude and who later returned to the world to share their knowledge. One of the world’s great philosophers was Friedrich Nietzsche and his classic text “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” is the story of Zarathustra, who went up into the mountains for 10 years and returned with a new view of man’s purpose, which is to devote one’s life all to the improvement of mankind. His views on the meaning of life influenced the birth of existentialism and harkened in the announcement that “God is dead.”
There are many examples and sources of support for the introverts’ character. Henry David Thoreau wrote “Walden,” which was about his year of living with solitude in the woods near Walden Pond.
Dante began “The Divine Comedy” with a scene of himself alone in the woods at midlife where he then meets up with the poet Virgil.
And one of the greatest writers in literary history, Marcel Proust, is a man who lived alone and in solitude his entire life in a small apartment in Paris and produced “In Search of Lost Times,” which is one of the great literary masterpieces.
We live in a world which values the garrulous, outspoken charismatic actor, comic, politician or business person. These are the hyper-competitive, socially gifted non-contemplative types who get most of the glory. But one ought not forget that these stars are often reading from a teleprompter, which has a script written by an introverted writer whose name you will never see.
So let’s hear it for the quiet ones, who are shy, decent, cooperative, inventive, creative and who in the final analysis are the ones who make all the breakthroughs in science, literature, film and art.